Best Missed in 2010: Everyone Died and Everyone Loved It!

Continuing on with the 1 year celebration we are looking back at again at one of my favorite posts from 2010. This one I wrote after my very first TPK. I was running with a new group of guys and on the first night the party ended up taking a dirt nap. I didn’t actually end the story there, they came back for the next session and beat the living tar out of the enemies who had defeated them. This article really was a revelation for me as a new DM, knowing that my players wouldn’t hate me forever if I killed their characters; enjoy!

That’s right! I as a DM had my very first TPK, that is a total party kill, and everyone came back the next week. As a DM, I have often had a hard time letting the dice and rules decide the fate of my players’ characters. Mostly because I don’t want people to not have fun, but a small part of me held back the flood gates of death because I want my players to like me. I’m human and I want to be in the company of other people; it’s a biological and sociological imperative. And because of this I wanted to make sure my players always had fun so they wouldn’t stop liking me. Looking back that sounds kid of lame, but I am sure I’m not the only one who has felt that way.

My players, my friends that is, didn’t hate me for it though; no one was angry and no one even disputed it. In the end, everyone was laughing and having a great time. My fears didn’t come true and were completely unfounded. I have emerged from my first TPK a better and stronger DM.  So I’m going to sit down and write a quick list of reasons why it’s ok to kill players’ characters from time to time so new DMs can learn from my experience.

  1. It’s fair: If you are a fair and judicious DM, your players know it. If rabbits are not always being pulled out of your hat and aces are not continuously falling out of your sleeve your players will trust that you are not out to get them. A fair death is an acceptable death and most good players will understand that. While no player should have to fear death in every encounter, they should not always expect victory either.  I roll my dice in front of my players, and I have no problem showing them a monster stat block afterward if the fairness of any fight is called into question.
  2. Plot: Since a TPK does not have to end in death of the character, you can use it to move the plot forward or in a new direction. It is not unheard of for a DM to pit players against an enemy they can not defeat for the purpose of killing the party. Later when the characters have gained more power they can have the glorious experience of defeating the enemy at whose hands they had previously fallen.
  3. It’s a Game: This is the most basic reason why it’s ok for a character to die but I have forgotten it many times over. Dungeons and Dragons is a game, with rules and uncertainty. If character death were not a part of the game combat, dice and most of the character sheet would be worthless. Cutting out death is cutting out a very large chunk of the game, and would erode the fun that can be had. A game with no death and no possible chance of failure is a railroad through the story.
  4. It adds fun: What? Killing players makes the game more fun? For the DM right? Nope. Well, yeah, for the DM, but also for the players. Deaths add story depth, arcs and memories. Death also acts as a reminder to players of the consequences of failure. Players who know that their DM will never allow them to fail will never play at the level of the players who have tasted death.
  5. Players might want it: Sometimes a player gets tired of a character, they decide to join another group, or they just want to work the self-sacrifice angle into the story, but for what ever reason some players invite death to the gaming table. If a player is cool with using death as a way to introduce a new character, go for it. It’s great for the story and can add elements of emotion when the remaining companions face off with the character’s murder.
  6. They won’t hate you: As I said in the introduction, I was just a little bit afraid that killing my players’ party would cause them to dislike me and not want to play in my game. When you say it out loud it sounds really silly, but it’s a real fear none the less. But if you look at #’s 1-4 and they are all true in your game, if you are fair, if you use death to add to the game, if you don’t kill your players’ characters monthly and they are having fun, then your players shouldn’t be angry with you. Moreover, it should be a good story to tell later, and a good laugh. It’s only been a week since I killed my players’ characters and they are already telling jokes about it. They still like me and even better, my group grew by one after it happened, not cause and effect but still better than everyone leaving.

Death is a part of D&D; for new DMs like myself, it might be hard to get used to. The first thing I suggest is to get over the fear of it. DMs shouldn’t revel in the death of characters, especially after all the time, thought and effort that goes into creating them, but they shouldn’t shy away from using such a large element of the game either. Death is a natural part of both life and D&D, but in D&D it can also be enjoyed.


Part idiot. Part old man. All geek. Thadeous can't think of anything interesting about him self right now. Know this though if he could it would be creative and funny as well as thought provoking.

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About Thadeousc

Thadeous can't think of anything interesting about him self right now. Know this though if he could it would be creative and funny as well as thought provoking.
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